Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

The Comparison Problem (Soccer in the USA)

Women’s Soccer is an American sport. Men’s Soccer isn’t (yet). Therein lies the problem of comparing the two on every level. Although they kick the same ball, they are very different for a variety of reasons. Just in case anyone reading this is waiting for my arguments against equal pay, they’re not coming. I believe the women’s compensation from USSF should be “equal”. (actually fair is the right word because the structures of compensation are vastly different and should be for now) The drum that I’m banging on is the need to separate the men’s game in this country from the women’s game for a while (about 12 years is my guess).

Women’s soccer is an American sport and if that was not obvious before, it should be after the 2019 Women’s World Cup. All American sports have a distinct characteristic: first mover’s advantage. The reason that the best leagues in the world for football, baseball and basketball reside within the United States is that these leagues existed before the rest of the world was overly interested in them. Yes, the players in baseball may now come from a variety of islands to the south but they are playing in the stadiums that were built by the legacy of the Babe, Rose, Clemens, etc.

“But the women’s league in the US has failed multiple times and the NWSL is propped up by National Federations.” Absolutely correct but the institution of Title IX gave women’s soccer a place to breed female talent before any other nation cared. The proof was on full display during this Women’s World Cup. Both coaches in the final played soccer in college and neither were born in the US. Soccer on the women’s side has been growing in the United States for decades. It is only recently that other nations are beginning to invest in the idea of women playing soccer. France and Spain in particular have begun the difficult game of catch-up but they have many obstacles to overcome and many don’t rely on money. Rose Lavelle was a standout performer in this World Cup because of Mia Hamm. A culture of women’s sport does not develop overnight and the rest of the world needs to contend with that issue. Unfortunately a majority of the female soccer stars on the international stage are from one country.

The exact reverse situation exists on the men’s side. Soccer is not an American sport (yet). The heroes that young players in the US idolize are usually not from their country. The best talent from the US is exported rather than imported. The game does not have a “first mover’s advantage”. It is one of the last dogs to get to the feeding bowl and often the traditional American sports have taken the greatest athletic talent before soccer gets a sniff. So the comparison of women’s and men’s soccer in the United States is at best apple to oranges and at worst unfairly skewed. But do not despair comparison people! The playing field will eventually be level, again I’d guess in about 12 years.

To use a phrase from Peter Diamandis’ book “BOLD”, men’s soccer in the United States is in a deceptive phase. Diamandis uses this moniker to describe a period when progress in technology seems to be almost non-existent. Results have looked basically the same for a long time with the USMNT. Win some, lose some but never a sense of dominance like the women enjoy, even in our own region. The reason why this is a deceptive phase is because all of the groundwork for the breakout of the men’s game has been happening for 25 years. Slowly, fathers who played now have sons who play. Soccer is becoming less of an afterthought and more of staple. The professional game is stable in this country and there is more soccer shown on TV in this country than ever before. So while the results of the Gold Cup may be disappointing, it is not truly a representation of where the men’s game is now. It is on the cusp of disruption.

This is where I’ll stick a pin in my argument for not comparing the women’s and men’s soccer programs for a while. Eventually the two will be on a level playing field as the rest of the world catch up to our women and the men disrupt the status quo in American sports culture and world soccer. I’m not sure which will happen first but I’m fully confident that they are both going to happen!

Enjoy the games!

Pete

Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

White Soccer Cleats (The Messages We’re Sending)

IMG_20190525_0002Growing up playing soccer in the 1980’s was kind of like the Wild West.  Not everyone fully understood the rules.  Cultural norms were not fully established or recognized.  Those players/teams who had a parent or relative who understood the game were an anomaly and an advantage.  The first unwritten rule that I learned was “if you wore white cleats, you’d better be the best player on your team or even the field”.  I learned this by accident because I wore white cleats for a season when I was young.  They weren’t my choice.  My mother bought what was cheap and these were definitely cheap!  Either Patrick or Wilson, I don’t even recall.  If anyone can tell by looking at the photo please put it in the comments below.  Regardless of the brand, my attire sent off conflicting messages to people who understood.  The color of my cleats sent the message, “I’m the best”.  The fact that they were cheap said, “I don’t have the best tools (either through poverty or ignorance)”.  My play sent the message “I don’t realize that I’m sending any messages!”

Ignorance and youth go hand in hand.  Lack of experience is part of life.  We pick up little pieces of information along the way that help us, mold us and allow us to move into a bigger world.  It was plain to see that I was not sending a message with my cleats.  They were simply a means to an end.  I’ve never worn white (or colorful) cleats again.  My skills don’t support them.  Even though that cultural norm has changed, I still subscribe to it.

So what messages are you sending to the world on a regular basis?  The cultural markers are different for all walks of life.  Whether it is the clothes that you wear, your hair style, your walk, or your smile; you are sending messages for sure.  But are they deliberate or clear?  This is not a post about conformity.  By all means, buck the cultural norms of the majority.  Rather it is about the subtle clues that you are giving to people about who you are.  Perhaps the message you want to send is “I don’t care what you think about me.”  And it is expressed with your clothes, hair, shoes, facial expressions and language patterns.  That’s completely fine!  However if you’re sending that message but want to be accepted by everyone then you’ve set yourself up for a losing battle.  The key is alignment.

You need to align the message that you are sending with the one that you want people to receive.  The first thing that you must do is DECIDE.  Decide on the message that you want people to get about you.  Keep it simple though.  No matter how deliberate you are about the signals that you send, no one is going to fully understand the complexities of you at first glance.  So lead with something.  Once you know what signal you want to send.  See if people are getting it.  Go to the people that you trust to tell you the truth and ask.  If you’re off the mark, it is up to you to adjust or accept that you’re not sending the right message.  The world is not obligated to understand you.

At this point, you will need to do a lot of observation.  Are you getting the results that you’re looking for?  Do people seem to be getting the signal that you’re sending?  This will probably be easier to read from people that you do not know well.  Those who know you well will take time to adjust to a new version of you.  If you’ve been a downer in the past, smiling more will tell those people that you see every day “she’s happy today” not “she’s a happy person”.  Changing long held perceptions will take time, effort and consistency.

So as you go out into your day.  Recognize that you’re sending signals.  You can keep sending the ones that you always have or change it up.  That’s completely up to you.  It just helps to have people receive the message that you want to send.  Those white cleats might be holding you back from opportunities that you don’t even realize!

Have a great day being you today!

Pete

 

Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

Soccer Karma

IMG_3939Our beliefs tend to color or almost define our worlds.  The thoughts that we hold most dear are the filters through which we cyphon our experiences and produce meaning.  Recognizing this would make one think that people would be deliberate in the creation of their beliefs.  Unfortunately this is rarely true.  People’s beliefs are often a mismatch of heritage and circumstances.  This haphazard approach is bound to lead to disaster more often than not.  I’m not here to offer a complete belief system but rather one small sample: Soccer Karma!

I’m a huge believer in soccer karma.  It is a term that I may have coined (or stolen, not sure!).  The concept is simple.  On the soccer field, if you give a good ball, you’re going to get a good ball.  Meaning that if you give a quality pass to a teammate, they’re going to give you a quality one back.  This is of course, not completely accurate.  It’s completely possible that you give a good ball and get a crap one back!  This is true.  However the belief matters more than the reality.  If I believe that my intent is going to have positive returns, I’m more likely to put effort in that direction.  That effort will eventually influence those around me, especially if we all believe the same thing.  This belief acts a ratchet that brings positive returns.

For years now, I’ve been professing the positives of this belief system.  While I know that it has paid dividends for my players and teams on the field, my hope has always been that the metaphors of our sport are not lost on those who play it.  The moment that we step off of the field, we are being released out into a larger venue with bigger stakes and uncertain scoring.  Regardless of that, the belief system can be applied with equal effectiveness.  If enough of us believe in it, then we truly can make life “a beautiful game”.

Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

The POSH Pilgrimage

It’s a regular occurrence to see English Football Teams on TVs across the United States at the moment.   The Premier League is arguably the most popular league in the world and many of the most beloved English teams are on display regularly for the American audience.  However my team is not!  For close to twenty years, I’ve been supporting Peterborough United Football Club.  The club is known by the nickname “The POSH”.  They do not play in the Premier League.  Nor do they play (at the moment) in the Championship.  The POSH are a League 1 team which means that they are in the third tier of English Football.  Since they are not on the television often, I follow my favorite team weekly through the internet by watching highlights and interviews on Youtube etc.  This week I’ll be making my second trip to watch a match at their home, The ABAX Stadium (formerly London Road) and I can’t wait!

My interest in the POSH was completely unexpected.  My girlfriend (now wife) bought me the first XBox and the FIFA video game to go along with it.  At first I used Liverpool as my team because as a young player I had watched soccer videos with Kevin Keegan.  Eventually I got bored with how easy it was to win the league.  So I decided to choose a lower league team and get them promoted to the Premier League.  As I was searching through the lower league teams, I found Peterborough.  Since my name is Pete, it seemed like a fine choice.  My POSH teams on the XBox were usually a combination of quality POSH players and a few of my favorite American or English players.  Brian McBride and Scot Thompson were regulars in the digital version of the blue and white.

PoshLukeandIAfter playing the game with the POSH for a while, I decided to look into how the team was in real life.  It was very casual at first but the season they got into a relegation battle really drew me in.  After that I followed the team regularly online by reading the match reports and checking Skysports.com.  The POSH forum at LondonRoad.net was another way that I got information relevant to the club.  The slow burn of my love for POSH got a large log thrown upon it in September of 2006 when Darragh MacAnthony became chairman of the club.  He stated that his ambition was to do exactly what I had done in the video game world.  If I wasn’t hooked before, I was all in at that point.  My newborn son had a full kit and I wore POSH blue (or bright yellow) regularly.  In addition to game days, I wore the POSH colors whenever I ran long distance races.

IMG_4279In 2007 I decided that it was time to visit London Road to attend a match.  It was possibly the most frugally planned trip that I could arrange.  I was in England for three nights including one in a basement room of a one star hotel in London.  It was an amazing trip!  The main reasons that the trip was amazing were all POSH related.  The team beat MK Dons 4-0 despite Shane Blackett getting sent off in the second half.  After the match, I waited around for autographs from the players and coaches.  Shwan Jalal and Craig Mackail-Smith were particularly nice to me.  Unfortunately I did not get to meet the new manager, Darren Ferguson.  At that moment, I mainly knew him as Sir Alex’s son.  Eventually he would become one of the best POSH managers by putting Darragh’s plan for promotion into effect.  By signing ambitious young players and putting them into a system that created boatloads of goals, he has become my favorite manager.

So after a twelve year absence, I finally get to return to Peterborough.  Many things have changed but many have not.  Darren Ferguson is the manager but he is on his third spell with the club.  The club is still ambitious but pragmatic in its approach.  On the outside looking in on playoff spots, there is a slim possibility that they’ll make the cutoff.  Regardless I am still hopeful that I’ll get the chance to see one of the games culminating in a playoff promotion success.  I know that it will be a great atmosphere having watched “Sunderland ’til I die!” recently, it’s obvious they have passionate fans.  Regardless, I can’t wait to be there!  It may require thousands of miles of travel and over ten years of waiting but I’m proud to be a POSH fan!  Supporting Man United would just be too easy!

Pete

SoccerLifeBalance

Mourinho, Management and More Peter Loge (Author of Soccer Thinking for Management Success)

PeterLogePhotoIn this episode, Peter Loge and I have a wide-ranging conversation on soccer’s many uses as a metaphor.  Peter is the author of “Soccer Thinking for Management Success.”  Throughout the book, he discusses several different ways that soccer overlaps with management concepts.  Check out his work at www.soccerthinking.com

SoccerLifeBalance

Being Intentional in Coaching and Leadership – Donna Fishter (Leadership Coach and Team Architect)

donna fishter consultingDonna Fishter is a Leadership Coach and Team Architect who works with athletes and coaches in order to make their teams better.  In this conversation we cover some of the ingredients of good leadership, red flags and remedies for poor team chemistry as well as an assortment of other topics.  You can find Big D at www.donnafishter.com

Click the link to see: A List of Big D’s Favorite Books, Videos, Speakers, etc.

 

 

SoccerLifeBalance

Hard Work Pushing Young Bull Forward – Brian White (New York Red Bulls)

bwhiteBrian White was the first draft pick taken by the New York Red Bulls in the 2018 MLS Draft.  In this conversation we talk about some of the things that set him apart as an athlete and the transition to life as a professional athlete.

SoccerLifeBalance

Sweet Feet to Educated Coaches – Brad Nein (Coach, Blogger, Doctor?)

bradneinphotoThis episode I got the chance to talk to Brad Nein, Coach and Blogger who works with kids and coaches in order to make a better experience of soccer.  We discuss his beginnings, his dissertation and many other topics.  To find out more about Brad and what he does, go to www.educatedcoaches.com or www.sweetfeetsoccer.org.

SoccerLifeBalance

It’s Chess, Not Kickball!

US26_LogoIt’s far off in the future but it will be here in a developmental instant.  Although the World Cup of 2026 is almost a decade away, the present is the only place where we can impact the future.  Recognizing that Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams may be the “veterans” of that team gives the extremely realistic picture that while our future could be bright, it is in our best interest to make it brighter.  The loftier heights of the sport world are not reached by the individual but rather by a cultural movement that serves as a base to raise the many.  So the US soccer needs to realize that it’s chess, not kick ball.

The reason is that our soccer culture has gotten extremely effective at creating only pawns.  Christian Pulisic is an anomaly as an American player because of his versatility and vision.  Generally speaking the youth systems of the country are extremely effective at creating players who can make the next pass and not much else.  A slightly dumbed down version of the beautiful game where creativity is superseded by practicality.  Although pawns are necessary in the game of chess, they are unable to win the game on their own.  The major pieces, like rooks and queens, give the best possibility for victory because they are dynamic and possibly game changing.  Opponents must fear them because they are unpredictable.  They are in the right spots because they think five moves ahead from where the play is right now.  And that’s what we all need to do with the game.

The recognition that right now is not the goal.  The goal looms in front of us in the distance but we can’t reach it playing kick ball.  We need to be playing chess, developing rooks, queens, bishops and even knights.  Seeing a path that leads to eventual checkmate will only come if we are developing enough quality pieces, not pawns for our small game.

Check yourself.

Pete